When Eric Brooks thinks about his work, he asks himself “How big is big?” and “How bad is bad?”
Brooks is asking about disaster situations. As Island County’s director of emergency management, based in Coupeville, an important part of his work is to inform island residents how to be ready for disaster conditions.
“We have a lot of risks, and we want people to have as much of the information they need to cope and survive. This is especially important because we live on islands (Whidbey and Camano) with limited access for supplies and services,” said Brooks at last Saturday’s emergency preparation fair in Langley.
“I don’t want people to be fearful, because that’s not the point,” Brooks said. “But individuals need to have plans and be prepared to sustain themselves from a few days to as much as a month.”
According to Brooks, Island County just doesn’t have the capability to help everyone as quickly as officials would like. He explained that large populations, such as mainland cities, would get more support faster than island areas.
The risks in Island County can range from wind and heavy rain to earthquakes, Brooks noted. County government works closely with other agencies, such as the American Red Cross, Island County Amateur Radio Club, Puget Sound Energy, Whidbey Telecom, and officials from Langley, Coupeville and Oak Harbor.
Island County also coordinates the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program. Through CERT, individuals can get specialized disaster response training and refresher courses.
Langley and Coupeville also have formal neighborhood mapping programs to define what resources are available and what assistance might be needed. Some island residents are doing neighborhood mapping in other areas with assistance from emergency preparedness.
Brooks explained that one particular hurdle for Island County is that there are no warehouses or large supply distribution facilities.
“In the event of a supply disruption, we’d have to depend on large and small boats, barges and maybe even helicopters,” he said.
Brooks advised island residents to think about what they would need for a serious or long-term emergency and prepare at their own comfort level. He said some vehicle and residential emergency kits are available as a retail package, or people can make up their own kit. He said some people may prefer different methods of food and water storage as well.
According to Brooks, preparation and training can reduce fear of the unknown and minimize disaster impacts. Although he cannot endorse any products, Brooks said he’s compiling lists of items that might be most helpful for individual readiness.
As a first step, the emergency management director encourages island residents to be familiar with the significant amount of information available on the county’s website. Those who are unfamiliar with online resources can also telephone the Department of Emergency Management at 360-679-7370.